Bee-killing pesticides have been found in US drinking water

April 7, 2017 by  
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We’ve known that neonicotinoid insecticides are bad news for bee populations for several years now, but one thing we don’t know about these pesticides is how they impact human health. A new study from the US Geological Survey and the University of Iowa reveals how terrifying that question could be, revealing minute traces of neonicotinoid chemicals are present in at least some drinking water in the US. In the study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters , researchers took samples from two water treatment plants in Iowa. Though many might assume waste treatment plants would be able to remove pesticides from drinking water, trace amounts of the neonicotinoids were still present after passing the water through the facilities’ carbon filtration systems. Granted, the amounts present ranged from 0.24 to 57.3 nanograms per liter, which Gizmodo describes as “like a single drop of water plopped into 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.” The amount is obviously incredibly small, but unfortunately scientists have no idea whether the residue that remains in drinking water could potentially impact human health. The Environmental Protection Agency has set no regulatory limits on the use of these substances, saying that previous studies have shown they have only low rates of adverse health effects for humans. There’s a catch, though – those older studies only looked at brief exposure to high concentrations of neonicotinoids. It’s still unknown whether low-level chronic exposure could result in long-term health problems. Related: Over 700 North American bee species are heading towards extinction Ideally, more research would be done to learn more about the effect these chemicals have on human health. But with Donald Trump and his cabinet attempting to loosen regulations on industries that pollute the environment and hobbling critical environmental research, it may be a few years before we know for certain whether low levels of neonicotinoids are harmful or not. Via Gizmodo Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Bee-killing pesticides have been found in US drinking water

Republicans axe rule that would have kept coal pollution out of waterways

February 3, 2017 by  
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This week, Republicans began the process of dismantling Barack Obama’s recent environmental regulations by rolling back the 2016 stream protection rule , which would have prevented coal companies from dumping mining waste into waterways. A little-known law called the Congressional Review Act allowed the House and Senate to overturn the rule before it was able to even take effect. Worse yet, according to the Act, similar legislation can’t be introduced in the future without Congressional approval. The rule was intended to minimize the environmental impact of surface mining , which can contaminate waterways and leave them toxic for nearby populations which depend on them for drinking water . The Interior Department estimated it would have protected 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest across the US. Related: Trump may gut the Endangered Species Act So why would the Republicans kill a rule that protects their constituents from toxic pollution? According to Congress, keeping coal debris away from water is causing the mining industry to go into massive decline. If that sounds like a flimsy justification, it is – as Vox explains , the decline of the coal industry is related to the rise in cheap natural gas in the US market, not environmental regulations. While this move may seem ominous for environmentalists, it’s important to keep the larger picture in perspective. This rule was mostly chosen by Republicans because it was an easy target and there was a simple way to overturn it. Other conservative goals, like abolishing the EPA or gutting the Endangered Species Act , will take significantly more time and effort to accomplish simply because they’re already well-established and entrenched in our government. Via The New York Times Images via Wikimedia Commons and Jennifer Woodard Maderazo

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Republicans axe rule that would have kept coal pollution out of waterways

Scientists discover 52-million-year-old tomatillo fossil

February 3, 2017 by  
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While not quite as charismatic as those of dinosaurs , vegetable fossils can provide game-changing insight into modern plants and their evolutionary process. A team of scientists led by paleobotanist Peter Wilf of Penn State University discovered fossils of tomatillos, that delicious relative of the tomato that is a key ingredient in salsa verde, in the Patagonia region of Argentina . Using atomic age dating techniques, the team determined that the newly discovered primordial tomatillos are about 52-million years old, at least 12 million years older than previously thought. Although the site where the fossils were found is now a cold and arid environment, the ancient tomatillos thrived in a very different climate. “The plants that generated these fossils were alive in a temperate rain forest next to a volcano,” said Richard Olmstead, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington. “When it finally snapped together [that] we were looking at a fossil tomatillo, it was quite shocking. It was disbelief. It was joy coupled with disbelief.” The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, and tobacco. The recently discovered fossils are the most intact and earliest examples of nightshade to date. “It’s a tremendous find. It provides insight totally absent from the fossil record and our understanding of the family prior to this,” said Olmstead. Related: Scientist finds dinosaur tail trapped in amber – and it’s covered with feathers Wilf and his team have given the species name  infinemundi,  Latin for “at the end of the world,” to its tomatillo specimen in reference to both where it was discovered and the era in which it lived. “It’s a nod to the modern and ancient location,” said Wilf “It’s at the edge of Argentina, so the end of the world that way. And it’s at the end of this time in Earth history.” This ancient tomatillo would have lived on the edge of major geologic and climatic changes , including the rise of the Ande s Mountains and the retreat of tropical biomes. These disruptions would have set the stage for the great diversity that emerged from the nightshade family, which includes over 2,400 extant species today. Via NPR Images via Flickr  and Killy Ridols

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Scientists discover 52-million-year-old tomatillo fossil

Native American tribe is fighting against the Pilgrim Pipeline in New Jersey

January 2, 2017 by  
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As oil and gas companies race to plan more pipelines to criss-cross America, conservationists are similarly ramping up their efforts to resist the environmentally destructive projects, and one such controversy in New Jersey is heating up quickly . The planned Pilgrim Pipeline would carry crude oil back and forth along the 178 miles from Albany, New York, to New Jersey’s Linden Harbor. The pipeline’s proposed route cuts through forests and a drinking water reservoir, prompting members of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation to organize a resistance camp, similar to the months-long backlash against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota. While that struggle has been long and difficult, the Ramapough Lunaape in New Jersey will face a different and perhaps even more challenging fight against corporate interests, for a number of reasons. As is often the case with resistance efforts led by indigenous people , the Ramapough Lunaape must first defend their right to protest. Last week, the New Jersey town of Mahwah issued summonses against the protesters for setting up a camp and erecting protest signs without permits, even though the activity is all taking place on tribal land. One of the key obstacles for the Ramapough Lunaape is that their nation is not recognized by the federal government, so they are not protected in the same way. The Ramapough Lunaape Nation is instead only recognized at the state level in New Jersey and New York. It doesn’t take an expert to understand how this issue will complicate their fight against the proposed pipeline . Related: US Army blocks Dakota Access Pipeline in major victory for protesters The tribe has made numerous attempts to gain federal recognition, but those efforts have all failed. One such bid, in 1993, was struck down after Donald Trump (yep, that guy) campaigned against the nation’s recognition in order to eliminate the possibility of competition for his casino in Atlantic City. The tribe hasn’t given up, though, and an ongoing petition is still active to collect signature in support of adding the Ramapough Lunaape Nation to the list of federal recognized tribes. The Pilgrim Pipeline has been in planning for more than two years, and local communities along its proposed route have been protesting the whole time. The planned route would loosely follow the New York State Thruway and I-287 and then through North Jersey’s environmentally sensitive Highlands. Protesters are worried about the pipeline’s proximity to the Highlands reservoirs, which provide water to 5 million New Jersey residents. Much like other pipeline projects across the country, the developers Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings have pledged to go “full steam ahead” despite the environmental and public health concerns. Via Grist Images via Northjersey Pipeline Walkers and  Pilgrim Pipeline

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Native American tribe is fighting against the Pilgrim Pipeline in New Jersey

Two-thirds of Americans exposed to cancer-causing drinking water, new report finds

September 20, 2016 by  
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A new report reveals everyday sources of drinking water expose 200 million American people to chromium-6 , a chemical linked to cancer. Sixteen years after the film “Erin Brockovich” brought worldwide attention to chemical pollution in Hinkley, California, two-thirds of Americans are still at risk from the dangerous heavy metal. Environmental Working Group  (EWG) released a new report on September 20 that found unsafe levels of chromium-6 in tap water across all 50 states. The EWG report summarizes the independent review of data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) for the first nationwide evaluation of chromium-6 contamination in US drinking water. The levels of chromium-6 found in drinking water across the nation put 12,000 Americans at risk for cancer, according to the report’s co-authors David Andrews and Bill Walker, senior scientist and managing editor of EWG. In response to the study results, Erin Brockovich herself is back to demand more regulatory action to ensure clean, healthy drinking water. “The water system in this country is overwhelmed and we aren’t putting enough resources towards this essential resource,” she told The Guardian in an email. “We simply can’t continue to survive with toxic drinking water.” Related: Sinkhole releases over 200 million gallons of toxic waste into Florida’s drinking water A huge part of the problem is that, despite the $333 million settlement Brockovich helped win for residents of Hinkley and mounting scientific evidence linking chromium-6 to various forms of cancer , Walker explains, “the US currently has no national drinking water standard for chromium-6.” “Part of the reason behind writing this report is really highlighting how our regulatory system is broken – in its ability to incorporate new science, and its ability to publish and update drinking water standards,” Andrews added. Chromium-6, also known as hexavalent chromium, is used in a number of processes, but the electric power industry is one of the largest users of the dangerous chemical and the biggest source of contamination. A 2011 Earthjustice report revealed “the electric power industry reported 10.6m pounds of chromium and chromium compounds were released to the environment” two years earlier, which is 24 percent of the chromium released by all industries. At that time, the causal relationship between hexavalent chromium and cancer was already known, and even small exposure levels were proven to be dangerous to humans. Yet, the EPA and other regulatory agencies have yet to create federal standards to protect the most basic of life-supporting substances: our drinking water. Via The Guardian Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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The galaxy-shaped Indian utopia built on principles of no money or government

September 20, 2016 by  
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As capitalism and globalization grow increasingly unpopular, new economic and social models are popping across the world – including India. But they don’t always pan out as well as their founding ideals. Case in point is Auroville, a city designed to be a grand utopia without money or government. Mirra Alfassa founded the community in 1968 on principles such as ongoing education, human unity, and research. She worked with French architect Roger Anger to design a galaxy-shaped spiral city that could inspire other ” beautiful cities where people sincerely looking towards a more harmonious future will want to live .” Inspired by her relationship with Indian guru and philosopher Sri Aurobindo, Alfassa built Auroville based on a charter that includes four ideals , chief of which include: residents “must be a willing servitor of the divine consciousness” and that the utopia would be a place of “material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.” Today the Indian government supports the utopian experiment with over $200,000 yearly. While the town was designed to hold 50,000 people, around 2,500 permanent residents dwell there (although some put that number closer to 10,000), with 5,000 visitors. Related: Utopian off-grid Regen Village produces all of its own food and energy Architecture research is included under the vision for Auroville. According to the city’s website , “The dream of building a new city for the future on a clean slate, with the purpose of promoting research and experimentation alongside integral development, has been attracting architects and students of architecture from all over the world ever since Auroville’s inception in 1968.” Architects in Auroville are encouraged to experiment with environmentally friendly designs, building materials, and technology. However, it’s not always peaceful in paradise. Faced with crime, residents often experience a different reality, even as many in the community continue to work towards Alfassa’s dream. Sexual harassment, robbery, and murder are among the crimes that have been committed in Auroville. One resident told a reporter for Slate, “When you start to scratch the surface of Auroville, it’s a lot more ugly than from the outside. You start to see all the problems here, and it’s deeply layered.” The no money idea hasn’t quite panned out either; while town visitors must buy a Aurocard with cash, some businesses prefer cash to the Aurocard. It’s not an entire failure. Auroville is home to the Matrimandir, a lovely two-story gold building designed for meditation and reflection. Many of the residents and visitors seem to strive for peace and unity. Half of the city gets its power from solar panels. Free education, organic farming, beautiful buildings, and art are among the community’s accomplishments. Via Slate Images via Auroville Facebook , Photo: Sanyam Bahga/Wikimedia Commons , and Wikimedia Commons

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Ford is working on cars that harvest water from thin air

September 15, 2016 by  
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What if accessing fresh water on the go was as easy as turning a dispenser in the front of your car? That was the vision Ford engineer Doug Martin laid out in this week’s Further With Ford trend conference in Detroit, Michigan. Inspired by a water-dispensing billboard in Lima, Peru, Martin wanted to create a system that would recycle the condensation produced by vehicle air conditioning to produce clear, drinkable water. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxmjdx_Rg_c&ab_channel=FordMedia Martin unveiled his prototype on Monday, a system called “On-The-Go H2O.” Using a simple kitchen pan (helpfully provided by his wife), Martin collected the droplets of water that would normally fall to the pavement below the car as the air conditioner removes humidity. The water in the pan is then pumped through a filtration system to get rid of any contaminants. Then, it’s stored in a tank inside the car, ready to be dispensed from a faucet between the driver and passenger seats. Related: Ford’s self-driving car will have no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brakes With the air conditioner running, Martin found his invention could produce more than 64 ounces of water per hour. That’s the equivalent of nearly four average-sized water bottles : not an insignificant amount. The new invention could help provide water in remote locations, as well as reduce plastic waste by making water bottles unnecessary. The technology is still in the prototype phase, so it’s unclear when we’ll actually see it in action inside Ford vehicles. Martin hopes that this technology could be repurposed to help provide access to clean drinking water in regions where it would normally be scarce. This isn’t Martin’s first invention at Ford. The engineer has been with the company for 22 years, and in that time he’s managed to amass around 70 auto-related patents. + Further With Ford Images via Ford Motors

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Affordable new biofoam could revolutionize how developing countries clean water

August 19, 2016 by  
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What happens when you embed graphene in ” bacteria-produced cellulose “? You get a biofoam that could revolutionize the way people in developing countries obtain clean water . Scientists from Washington University in St. Louis who developed the biofoam published their findings in the journal Advanced Materials earlier this month. It seems there’s little graphene can’t do: the researchers used its powers of light absorption to design an inexpensive, light biofoam from which dirty water evaporates quickly to create drinking water. Working with a colleague from the Air Force Research Laboratory, seven scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have now developed a ” bi-layered biofoam .” Related: New graphene solar panels turn rain into clean energy The biofoam is made of two layers of nanocellulose. Bacteria is involved in making both layers: the bottom layer is comprised purely of bacteria-produced nanocellulose, while the top layer is nanocellulose embedded with graphene oxide. The bottom layer acts similar to a sponge, pulling water up to the biofoam. When the water is pulled to the graphene oxide layer, the heat present due to graphene oxide makes the water evaporate. The resulting fresh water “can easily be collected from the top of the sheet,” according to the university. Mechanical engineering and materials science associate professor Srikanth Singamaneni said in a press release, “We hope that for countries where there is ample sunlight, such as India , you’ll be able to take some dirty water, evaporate it using our material, and collect fresh water.” Since the biofoam can be made inexpensively, the scientists think their vision of water-cleaning biofoam serving those in developing countries could easily become reality. Sigamaneni said, “Cellulose can be produced on a massive scale, and graphene oxide is extremely cheap – people can produce tons, truly tons, of it. Both materials going into this are highly scalable. So one can imagine making huge sheets of the biofoam.” The scientists plan to continue their research, seeking additional applications of the revolutionary biofoam. + Washington University of St. Louis Images via Washington University in St. Louis and Milaap.org on Flickr

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Beautiful timber office sequesters carbon in Austria

August 19, 2016 by  
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Located in Mödling, Austria, 52 Cubic Wood is mostly clad in vertical strips of timber carefully crafted and joined together. In addition to its beautiful appearance, timber was chosen over concrete and steel because of its advantage as a “carbon sink” thanks to trees’ absorption of carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. That carbon is not released until the timber decomposes or is burnt. Aside from the timber cladding, a mirrored facade partially covers the ground level. The angled mirrors reflect the foliage of the outdoor gardens. Large windows also frame views of the outdoor landscape and bring in natural light to illuminate the interior. Related: World’s tallest hybrid timber tower by Shigeru Ban coming to Vancouver The office spaces span two floors and are similarly clad in light-colored wooden surfaces and complemented with timber furnishings. “52 cubic wood – produces carbohydrate (glucose) from carbon dioxide CO2 (which equates to 260.000km by car) with the help of the sun,” write the architects. “Additionally oxygen is released in the form of breathable air for 100 years per person. This happens interference-free without waste and emissions, it‘s quiet and fully automatic. This is the beauty of the factory called ‘The forest’.” + JOSEP + Atelier Gerhard Haumer Via ArchDaily Images via JOSEP , © Bernhard Fiedler

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Gaza man’s DIY solar desalination machine can produce 2.6 gallons of fresh water every day

August 11, 2016 by  
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In the Gaza region, decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict have resulted in a severe drinking water shortage, as some 90 percent of the water supply is unfit for human consumption. One local man has created a solar-powered desalination device that turns undrinkable water into healthy, fresh H2O. Fayez al-Hindi’s homemade distillation setup could help save Gaza, as residents are at risk for running out of water in a matter of months, according to some news reports. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ1NCW5eDNs “Sunshine is readily available in our country,” the inventor says of his homemade desalination tank. In an attempt to address the water shortage with a sustainable solution, al-Hindi built a simple distillation tank that separates clean water from pollutants and salt. The inventor’s system produces about 2.6 gallons of water daily, which is just enough for he and his family’s basic drinking and cooking needs. Related: New chemical-free desalination tech helps bring water surplus to Israel Of course, many folks were concerned about how safe al-Hindi’s distilled water could be, so the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility tested the water and found that his process is working. Lab technician Mohamed Abu Shamaleh called the results “fascinating” and applauded al-Hindi for finding a way to take an old water treatment method and make it new by using solar power . Now, al-Hindi is working to help other local residents build their own distillation systems, so that more people can have easy access to safe drinking water. It will be years or perhaps decades before the region’s infrastructure is repaired, so homemade water purification systems like this one may become essential to survival for thousands of people in Gaza. Via AJ+ Images via AJ+ via screenshot

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